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Salem’s Jake Amato shuts out No. 7 Brighton on the road, further compacting KLAA West standings

By: Matthew B. Mowery, April 22, 2019, 9:00 pm

BRIGHTON — Too much of a good thing isn’t always that good.

Strikeouts are golden, as a pitcher, but too many strikeouts, and you’re driving up your own pitch count, limiting your ability to stay in the game as long as you’d like.

Launch angle is the key to hitting home runs, but too high an angle, and you’re just popping the ball up, hitting mortar shots well short of the fences.

Combine those two, and you have the story of Monday’s Kensington Lakes Activities Association baseball meeting between Brighton and Salem, where Jake Amato struck out just one batter, but still was dominant, getting pop-up after pop-up, tossing a three-hit shutout of the No. 7-ranked Bulldogs in a 6-0 Salem win.

“It was one of my best outings this season,” Amato admitted. “The goal is to throw three pitches per at-bat. Keep the pitch count low. Since we don’t have a lot of guys that throw hard this year, it is about getting guys out with contact.”

It was not the offense that Brighton coach Charlie Christner was used to seeing from his Bulldogs. 

“Not today. I think we popped out 13 times today, and that’s not going to work. Thirteen easy outs, and they swung really well to start the game. That’s not what I’ve seen all year (from the offense),” the coach said. “The ball was up in the zone a little bit, and that helped with that. But he kept us off-balance in a couple of key points, and got us out front a couple times, popped us up. We just didn’t do it today.”

It’s been a point of emphasis for the Rocks to have their pitchers try to get outs by pitching to contact, rather than try to strike opponents out. 

“We’ve talked about, with our kids — in the past, we’ve had kids that throw really hard, so they strike out more. We’re talking more about pitching to contact more, and he did a really good job of working ahead, and pitching to contact,” Salem coach John Wright said. “You get those (pop-ups). Baseball’s a losing sport — they’re going to make mistakes more than they’re going to drive a baseball, so that’s what we’re counting on.”

It helped that the Rocks (9-2, 5-2 KLAA West) staked Amato to an early 3-0 lead after the top of the first. And it helped even more than they kept adding on, scoring two more in the top of the fifth, and adding an insurance run in the seventh.

“We talk about that, every time, every practice, every game: If we get two or three runs, then they start to press, like we would. We did a really good job coming on the road for that,” Wright said. “We talk about some number every inning that’s not zero. We’ll take a look, and say ‘How many zeroes? Two zeroes? That’s two too many.’ That’s our motto. We’ve gotta score runs. I tell them that if we get six, we should be all right.” 

Luke Jakubik led off with a walk, and scored on a double to center by Carlton Harper. Tyler Overaitis’ RBI single made it 2-0, then the Rocks made it 3-0 when Amato scored on a groundout by Matthew Claerhout.

The Bulldogs (9-4, 6-2 KLAA West) had their best opportunity in the fourth inning, a rally that started when Zach Hopman reached on an error, then Brighton loaded the bases with a single by Mitchell Marvin and a walk to Alex DePue. 

Amato wiggled out of it without damage, though, getting a pair of fielder’s choice grounders to the corner infielders — Harper at third and Owen Keyes at first — for force plays at the plate, then getting an out on — you guessed it — a pop-up to end it.

Amato’s sacrifice fly in the top of the next frame made it 4-0, then Overaitis followed with an RBI single to make it 5-0. Harper doubled down the line to lead off the seventh, moved to third on a passed ball, and scored when the throw to third went astray. 

The win by Salem continued to compact the top of the standings in the West, where every team had at least one league loss going into the day. In a division where it’s likely to come down to a game here or there, it was a big road win for the Rocks, who came into the day a half-game off the pace.

“Yeah, it is. They’re a really, really nice ballclub, and I think they were in first place coming in, so we knew what it was,” Wright said. “I would argue that our division’s one of the best in the state right now, with the teams we have. We knew it coming in. We lost some pitching (to graduation), but we knew we were going to hit the ball well.”

It extends the Rocks’ winning streak to eight games.

“It’s huge, especially for team chemistry. We’re on a streak right now, and the whole team’s playing well together,” Amato said. 

And it’s one of those games that a team might end up kicking themselves for dropping on their home field, when the final accounting comes.

“That was kind of the thing, going into this with Game 1 on our home field, we felt pretty good, and now we’re going to have to go return the favor to them, because I’m sure they’re going to be feeling pretty good after today, going back to their place on Wednesday,” Christner said. “I don’t know that there’s a ton of momentum in baseball, just depends on who’s going to pitch the next game, but we gotta get it back on our side if there is.”